Out With the Old, Part 2

Posted: 22nd January 2013 by Alex Zhu in Uncategorized

Last weekend, we continued the process of removing the old structural ribs. We used a dremel this time to get a little closer cut, still without damaging the body of the car. In the video below, taken earlier during the work session, we were using a metal tool. Later on we switched to a carbide cut-off wheel, which made things go much faster. Still, we had to stop often to let the dremel cool off to prevent overheating.

There was a scary moment when the array, which had been left outside, picked up the wind and started rolling down the alley, which caused me to promptly drop the dremel on the ground (while it was still on low-speed) and chase the array down. Because of that, the dremel broke and we had to spend some time inside taking it apart and [partially] fixing it. But at least our array didn’t smash into the side of the Ford building!

Out With the Old

Posted: 15th January 2013 by Alex Zhu in Uncategorized

We had our first work session of winter quarter last Saturday. The goal of the work session was to coarsely cut out the ribs (our term for the carbon fiber panels that make up the frame of the car). First, we removed all the remaining components in the car, such as the brakes, steering, and shocks, then took the body outside and roughly cut out the ribs using a sawzall, making sure not to damage the body. Later, we will use more precise methods to completely remove the ribs from the body. Watch a brief video containing footage from the process below:

Since sawing the panels creates carbon fiber dust, those of us who worked on that had to don respirators. Here’s Ebay showing off his respirator and sawzall:

Ebay with his respirator and sawzall at the ready

After the work session, we killed some time in the Mechatronics lab playing a few heated games of Curve Fever before heading off to our very first team dinner at the Celtic Knot. In addition to satisfying our cravings for great food, the Celtic Knot also satisfies our craving to doodle, with their free crayons and paper-lined tables. I think we’ll be eating here more often in the future!

Nick's pre-dinner masterpiece

Texas Bound for FSGP ’13

Posted: 31st December 2012 by Alex Zhu in Uncategorized

We received word that the 2013 Formula Sun Grand Prix will be held June 24-29 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX.

Circuit of the Americas aerial view - from www.nickyhayden.com

Racing on Circuit of the Americas will be a great experience, and I’m very glad this venue was chosen (no offense, California). Circuit of the Americas is the most modern racetrack in North America, and was designed to hold Formula One races. It held it’s first event, the 2012 United States Grand Prix, last month. The circuit is a brand-spanking-new (opened October 2012) facility that’s received great reviews from fans and drivers alike. Once our solar car takes to the track this summer, the hot Texas sun should give our array tons of power, while giving our battery cooling system a good workout. The circuit is very wide and has been designed with contemporary safety features like extra-width curbs and large runoff zones, so racing our solar car on it should be a good experience.

There will be only one week between finals week and the beginning of the race, so that puts us on a rather tight schedule–there won’t be much time to do final checks, pack, and head down to Texas after finals end. However, it’s good that we won’t have to miss school or exams like past solar car students have had to do.

Anyways, like I said I’m really looking forward to racing in Texas. Here’s more info about the track:

Wikipedia page

Gallery of its construction

Lap around the track:

Of High School Engineers and Hands-On Training

Posted: 6th December 2012 by Kai Huang in Uncategorized

This weekend was an interesting week for everyone. A local high school came to visit us and we got a chance to show off the SC6 design. The top shell was relatively easy to bring out onto the rack but we wanted to clean up and remove most of the non-carbon-fiber components from the bottom shell before bringing it out. This gave the new mechies got a chance to really get hands on with the car. We quickly disassembled the roll cage and suspension as well as removing some restraining straps.

While the mechies clicked their ratchets, the electrical team also got a chance to work with SC6 hands-on. They inspected the wiring on the top shell to get a better picture of how their components will fit in the car.

The high-schoolers got a chance to see all of this in action and were impressed by SC6.

With Reading Week and Finals Week looming, the fall quarter is finally coming to a close. Both the mechie and electrical minions are ready for some more responsibility and winter quarter will surely see some very productive weekends.

Visit from Dan

Posted: 19th November 2012 by Alex Zhu in Uncategorized

Dan sits in the cockpit of SC6

This weekend, we got a special surprise as Dan Cornew, one of our team’s recent alumni, came to visit. Dan is part of the Northwestern Class of 2011, and was a key member of the solar car team while he was here. Dan’s folks live a few miles north of NU, so it isn’t much trouble for him to visit at the same time he goes home.

Anyways, Dan came to take a look at the new car, and offer some advice for getting it up and running. Dan is a treasure trove of solar energy and composites material knowledge, knowledge he currently uses at his job building solar-powered UAVs. He actually fits inside our current car, SC6, which is a major development as that was not remotely possible in good old SC5.

Overall, the team has been making solid progress lately. We should be receiving some samples of carbon fiber material soon so we can do some mechanical testing on them and decide what’s suitable for our car. Also, we have been designing an improved rollcage, as well as more reliable suspension components, in CAD software. The electrical team is currently working on splitting up some of our circuits, as well as creating a new car telemetry system.

Thanksgiving is this Thursday, which means a chance to catch up with old friends from home, and a well deserved break (not taking into account the midterm and 2 papers I have due the week after, of course).

Of A Freshie Blogger and CAD Things

Posted: 28th October 2012 by Kai Huang in Uncategorized

I’m Kai and this is my first post for the team! Although I am a biomedical engineer, I joined the mechanical team because I am still a mechanical tinkerer at heart. I love photography and working with CAD and I hope to contribute to the team through both mediums soon! I will be blogging mostly about my freshman experience on the mechanical team and other random happenstances.

This weekend was a very busy one on campus. Friday night started off with the homecoming parade, with alumnus J.A. Adande – a panelist on ESPN- as grand marshal leading the Wildcat Marching Band. Saturday presented a great homecoming game capped off by a 28-17 Wildcat victory.

Go 'Cats!

With the obligatory partying and other victory/Halloween shenanigans complete, it was once again 12 noon on Sunday and time to hit Ford for more mechanical training. After a crucial vote on what to order for food, we mechie minions recruits were lead to a computer lab to work on CAD.

We mechie recruits are ready to get to work!

With hands on tutorials provided by the NX8 program and helpful hints from Jess, the minions were quickly turning into well trained CAD-monkeys. After a slight drop in productivity caused by the timely arrival of Potbelly sandwiches, the minions soldiered on and familiarized themselves with NX8.

Next week, we will continue our training with FEA (Finite Element Analysis), a technique used to evaluate the structural integrity of a part design on the computer. Pretty soon, we will be ready to design and machine parts for the solar car!

Finding Work, and Working On The Mill

Posted: 22nd October 2012 by Alex Zhu in Uncategorized

Last week was a pretty busy one for the team. It was the big recruiting week for students interested in internships and full time work, which was packed full of company info sessions, networking events, on-campus interviews (if half of your Mechanical Behavior of Materials class is missing one day, it may be because they all snagged interviews that day), and peaked with the SWE Industry Day career fair on Thursday night. That means a lot of company representatives were walking around campus, and not only were we trying desperately to get jobs from them, but many of them wanted to meet with the team and see what we’d been up to!

We met with a representative from Goodyear who was on our team when he was studying at Northwestern, and showed the car to representatives from Ford, 3M, and SpaceX. The SpaceX representative was Matt Soule, one of the founding members of our team! I never thought I’d get to talk to one of the creators of the team, and getting the chance to was awesome. Everyone we met with was very interested in and supportive of our project, and having the usefulness of the solar car experience “confirmed” by people in industry was good to hear.

Chris and Nacho (in interview dress) talk with Matt Soule about the car's electronics

This Sunday during our work session we put everyone to work on the mills in the Ford Prototyping Lab! The new recruits got practice measuring parts with a caliper, and using the mills to machine aluminum parts. Many parts of our solar car, such as the suspension mount plates, are made of aluminum and machined in-house, so this is an important skill for any mechanical engineering student on the team. Plus, having some experience with manufacturing parts will make you a better product designer because you’ll know how to design parts that are easier and thus less expensive to manufacture, in addition to accomplishing their intended function.

Hello Again to SC6

Posted: 15th October 2012 by Alex Zhu in Uncategorized

In this Sunday’s work session, the freshman recruits received some more advanced training specific to their intended role on the team. Here, Chris is walking recruits through an electronics tutorial:

While that was happening, a group of us went and got SC6, the solar car we competed with this summer, out of the trailer and into the garage. Seeing the car for the first time since the race 3 months ago instantly brought back a wave of memories from the most hectic, exciting, challenging, and unforgettable week of the summer. The trailer even smelled exactly the same as it did when we left it!

Anyways, we plopped the car down in the Autobay and took a good look at it. When school started we made a list of all the things that would need to be fixed on SC6, and it was a very long list we made, but seeing the car and it’s issues in real life made it much clearer what we’re facing this year. Not only are there parts that haven’t been installed or need to be improved, but there are certain areas that we need to tear out and start fresh on. Many last-minute fixes were put on the car that were questionable but got the job done in the short term, yet will be unacceptable for reliable long term use. So, all those will have to be reimagined and reengineered. I think our new freshman class will be feeling busy soon…

Autobay cleanup, Freshman training

Posted: 7th October 2012 by Alex Zhu in Uncategorized

This Sunday we held our first work session. For now we’re splitting off into two groups: the new freshman members are receiving training from the senior members, while the junior and sophomore members are completing tasks. This way, the team doesn’t have to come to a complete stop to train new recruits, but they’re still going to get brought up to speed effectively by the most experienced members of the team. The training started this week with a powerpoint presentation going over the structure of the team, and technical details about the car’s design and performance. Then, freshmen were shown SC5, our last-generation car.

Freshman were eager to get out of their seats and get their hands on actual solar car components after the long powerpoint presentation

While that was happening, we were also cleaning up the Autobay, the garage in the Ford building where we work. We sorted through a lot of old things and got rid of what we didn’t need anymore. That cleared up a lot of space, so we were able to organize what we still need better. While we were going through old storage bins, we found something really cool: A postcard from the Sunrayce ’99 solar car race! Sunrayce ’99 was the first competition we entered, with our very first car, Solarcat. Our team, as well as the eco-friendly vehicle and solar power industries, have definitely come a long way since then!

Postcard from Sunrayce '99, the first competition we entered!

Kickoff Meeting, Big Bite Night

Posted: 30th September 2012 by Alex Zhu in Uncategorized

Today, we welcomed any students in McCormick, and especially the new freshmen from the Class of ’16, who were interested in becoming involved with the solar car team. We introduced ourselves and talked about all the different groups on the team, then brought out one of our old cars to show the freshmen it’s systems and design. We also gave them a look at the spaces we use in Ford, such as the Autobay and Mechatronics lab, and answered any questions they had about things like how the car works, what the competition is like, what it takes to be on the team, or what types of skills they can learn from being on the team.

Team members answer new students' questions about the solar car

Students gather around the battery box as members of the electrical team describe their responsibilities

After we thought they had enough solar car, we walked to downtown Evanston together as a group for Big Bite Night (video from last year), where we got to try free samples from almost every restaurant in the downtown area, and more importantly, collect tons of coupons from them. Hopefully we’ll do this again in future years, it was a lot of fun and a good way to meet new people.

DT stealthily swoops in for a smoothie at Edzo's

Jess politely accepts a crepe from Creperie Saint Germain

Next Sunday will be our first work session. We’ll be training new students on team operations, as well as cleaning up our workspaces from the summer race preparation.